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Jonathan Gold Laughs Along With Phillip Lee's Scratch Bar

Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

Few critics are able to decipher a restaurant's place in this city's dining scene, and Jonathan Gold hits the mark with the nine-month old Scratch Bar, an almost comical relief from the uber-serious hyper-foodieness that pervades the Fifty Best and avant-garde Spanish eateries that fill up the Instagram accounts of jet-set bloggers. While a KevinEats might rummage through the entire menu of the fantastical bites at Phillip Lee's La Cienega eatery, the Goldster weaves through the creative plates with ease:

Scratch Bar, a sleek, dim gastropub next to Matsuhisa on La Cienega's restaurant row, is a welcome bit of comic relief, the wiseguy telling jokes in the corner while the popular kids forage miner's lettuce and make buttermilk cheese with a centrifuge.

Chef Phillip Frankland Lee and his band roast half-cylinders of sourdough bread, scoop out grooves in the center and fill them with bone marrow — trompe l'oeil marrow bones, garnished with ruddy bits of beet-marinated vegetables. They bake whole smelt inside crackers, so that the little fish appear to be emerging from the flat surface like nudes in a Robert Graham sculpture, and set them upright in blood-red smears of beet and beef marrow.

Photo by Elizabeth Daniels

Gold continues:

The signature presentation is probably Squid in a Box — the box is fashioned from fried potato, and the construction rests on a tar-black purée of charred eggplant, but it is indeed squid in a box. Vegetarians can have a Box Full of Vegetables instead.

I'm not sure Lee is aiming toward a higher end at Scratch Bar, but in a way it doesn't matter. His food tastes pretty good, it is attractively presented and it makes you smile. I suspect the tiny portions and militant whimsy might enrage a certain kind of customer, but for the most part this, and the vanilla ice cream cones with house-made jimmies, may be enough.

In the meantime, Besha Rodell of LA Weekly checks out Gracias Madre, the new vegan-Mexican production of the Cafe Gratitude crew on Melrose. Writing that the glamorous vegan restaurant has arrived, Rodell still think the dishes are a mixed bag:

Stuffed with caramelized onions and sweet potato before being deep-fried, the flautas might be the best entree on the menu. They make expert use of the inherent fat and heft of guacamole, which dots the top of the dish. They're also heavy enough to induce a food coma, which some might see as a bonus, given the veggie-based context....

But some of the food here undeniably suffers from being too weighty, such as the tamal, which in its dense and leaden consistency lacks the buoyancy and fluff of the best versions. Then there's the opposite problem, the food that has a ton of upfront salt and back-of-the-tongue acid but lacks that thing that coats your center palate and makes food delicious.

Overall, two stars for the vegan Mexican spot.

The Elsewhere: MyLastBite digs the pork at Cliff's Edge, TableConversation declares Hook Burger in Burbank the best of the year, NomsNotBombs noms on Plan Check's Cruller Donut, and KevinEats digs Peking Tavern.

Scratch | bar

111 N La Cienega, Los Angeles, CA 90211

Scratch Bar

111 N. La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90211